What is your current position and area of research?
I am Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University. I am a biological anthropologist and conduct research in the area of primate and human evolution. My research spans two different but complementary areas. The first is the discovery and interpretation of the fossil evidence of primate evolution. The second involves investigation of important aspects of human evolutionary history that are not represented in the fossil record, including the evolution of skin and skin pigmentation.
What led you to this field of research?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of reconstructing life in the distant past. I have collected and studied fossils since I was a small child. When I was a teenager, I became enthralled with human evolution and the quest for understanding how our lineage evolved. I have not advanced since!
What has been the biggest change in the behavioral and social sciences during your career?
The biggest change has been, and continues to be, the cross-fertilization of genetics and genomics and the social and behavioral sciences. Advances in genetics and the sequencing of the human genome have allowed us to better appreciate the biological basis for human condition. The social and behavioral sciences -- especially anthropology and psychology -- have provided the framework for understanding why we evolved as we have, and now are shedding light on the nature of environmental regulation of the genome. The emergence of a unified “science of the human condition” has been the most exciting intellectual development of my professional lifetime.
What do you enjoy most about being a member of BBCSS?
I love to learn new things from smart and intellectually nimble people. Membership in the BBCSS makes it possible for me to learn new and exciting things about human behavior and societies from the best and most communicative of scholars. The BBCSS also affords committee members the rare opportunity to influence public policy directly through our scholarship. This is exciting and important, and I feel honored to be a part of this effort.
What is the most important thing you would like to see the behavioral and social sciences achieve in the next 10 years?
We need to use the insights gained from the behavioral and social sciences to improve primary and secondary education. In the last 20 years, our sciences have shed copious light on the nature of the learning process, but this information has, for the most part, not influenced educational policy and practice.
What is your favorite book of all time?
This is the hardest question I have ever been asked. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.